June 5, 1944 |
New York City
|Alma mater||Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
|Known for||Diffie–Hellman key exchange|
|Notable awards||Kanellakis Award (1996)
Hamming Medal (2010)
Diffie and Martin Hellman's paper New Directions in Cryptography was published in 1976. It introduced a radically new method of distributing cryptographic keys, that went far toward solving one of the fundamental problems of cryptography, key distribution. It has become known as Diffie–Hellman key exchange. The article also seems to have stimulated the almost immediate public development of a new class of encryption algorithms, the asymmetric key algorithms.
After a long career at Sun Microsystems, where he became a Sun Fellow, Diffie served for two and a half years as Vice President for Information Security and Cryptography at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (2010-2012), a visiting scholar (2009-2010) and an affiliate (2010-2012) at the Freeman Spogli Institute's Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.
Background and career
His interest in cryptography began at "age 10 when his father, a professor, brought home the entire crypto shelf of the City College Library in New York."
He received a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965 and did graduate studies at Stanford University. He received an honorary doctorate from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 1992.
In 1975-76, Diffie and Martin Hellman criticized the NBS proposed Data Encryption Standard, largely because its 56-bit key length was too short to prevent Brute-force attack. An audio recording survives of their review of DES at Stanford in 1976 with Dennis Branstad of NBS and representatives of the National Security Agency. Their concern was well-founded: subsequent history has shown not only that NSA actively intervened with IBM and NBS to shorten the key size, but also that the short key size enabled exactly the kind of massively parallel key crackers that Hellman and Diffie sketched out. When these were ultimately built outside the classified world, they made it clear that DES was insecure and obsolete. In 2012, a $10,000 commercially available machine can recover a DES key in days.
In 1991 he joined Sun Microsystems Laboratories (in Menlo Park, California) as a Distinguished Engineer, working primarily on public policy aspects of cryptography. Diffie remained with Sun, serving as its Chief Security Officer and as a Vice President until November 2009. He is also a Sun Fellow.
In 1992 he was awarded a Doctorate in Technical Sciences (Honoris Causa) by the ETH Zurich. He is also a fellow of the Marconi Foundation and visiting fellow of the Isaac Newton Institute. He has received various awards from other organisations. In July 2008, he was also awarded a Degree of Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) by Royal Holloway, University of London. He was also awarded the IEEE Donald G. Fink Prize Paper Award in 1981 (together with Martin E. Hellman), the The Franklin Institute's Louis E. Levy Medal in 1997 a Golden Jubilee Award for Technological Innovation from the IEEE Information Theory Society in 1998, and the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal in 2010.
Public key cryptography
In the early 1970s, Diffie worked with Martin Hellman to develop the fundamental ideas of dual-key, or public key, cryptography. They published their results in 1976—solving one of the fundamental problems of cryptography, key distribution—and essentially broke the monopoly that had previously existed where government entities controlled cryptographic technology and the terms on which other individuals could have access to it. "From the moment Diffie and Hellman published their findings..., the National Security Agency's crypto monopoly was effectively terminated. ... Every company, every citizen now had routine access to the sorts of cryptographic technology that not many years ago ranked alongside the atom bomb as a source of power." The solution has become known as Diffie–Hellman key exchange.
- Levy, 2001, p. 90ff
- "Whitfield Diffie - CISAC". Retrieved 2013-02-19.
- Levy, Stephen (1994-07-12). "Battle of the Clipper Chip". New York Times Magazine. pp. 44–51, plus cover photo of Diffie. "Whitfield Diffie's amazing breakthrough could guarantee computer privacy. But the Government, fearing crime and terror, wants to co-opt his magic key and listen in. ... High-tech has created a huge privacy gap. But miraculously, a fix has emerged: cheap, easy-to-use-, virtually unbreakable encryption. Cryptography is the silver bullet by which we can hope to reclaim our privacy. ... a remarkable discovery made almost 20 years ago, a breakthrough that combined with the obscure field of cryptography into the mainstream of communications policy. It began with Whitfield Diffie, a young computer scientist and cryptographer. He did not work for the government. ... He had been bitten by the cryptography bug at age 10 when his father, a professor, brought home the entire crypto shelf of the City College Library in New York. ... [Diffie] was always concerned about individuals, an individual's privacy as opposed to Government secrecy. ... Diffie, now 50, is still committed to those beliefs. ... [Diffie] and Martin E. Hellman, an electrical engineering professor at Stanford University, created a crypto revolution. ... Diffie was dissatisfied with the security [on computer systems] ... in the 1960s [because] a system manager had access to all passwords. ... A perfect system would eliminate the need for a trusted third party. ... led Diffie to think about a more general problem in cryptography: key management. ... When Diffie moved to Stanford University in 1969, he foresaw the rise of home computer terminals [and pondered] how to use them to make transactions. ... in the mid-1970s, Diffie and Hellman achieved a stunning breakthrough that changed cryptography forever. They split the cryptographic key. In their system, every user has two keys, a public one and a private one, that are unique to their owner. Whatever is scrambled by one key can be unscrambled by the other. ... It was an amazing solution, but even more remarkable was that this split-key system solved both of Diffie's problems, the desire to shield communications from eavesdroppers and also to provide a secure electronic identification for contracts and financial transactions done by computer. It provided the identification by the use of 'digital signatures' that verify the sender much the same way that a real signature validates a check or contract. ... From the moment Diffie and Hellman published their findings in 1976, the National Security Agency's crypto monopoly was effectively terminated. ... Every company, every citizen now had routine access to the sorts of cryptographic technology that not many years ago ranked alongside the atom bomb as a source of power.'"
- "The People at Oracle Labs". Bio. Oracle Corporation. undated. Retrieved 2011-01-28. "Whitfield Diffie, Chief Security Officer of Sun Microsystems, is Vice President and Sun Fellow and has been at Sun since 1991. As Chief Security Officer, Diffie is the chief exponent of Sun's security vision and responsible for developing Sun's strategy to achieve that vision."
- "DES (Data Encryption Standard) Review at Stanford University". 1976. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
- "Dr. Whitfield Diffie". Sun Microsystems employee pages. Sun Microsystems. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
- "Honorary Degree awarded to Prof Whitfield Diffie, Visiting Professor to the ISG". Information Security Group website. Royal Holloway University. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
- "IEEE Donald G. Fink Prize Paper Award Recipients". IEEE. Retrieved November 11, 2010.
- "Franklin Laureate Database - Louis E. Levy Medal Laureates". Franklin Institute. Retrieved January 22, 2011.
- "Golden Jubilee Awards for Technological Innovation". IEEE Information Theory Society. Retrieved July 14, 2011.
- "IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal Recipients". IEEE. Retrieved November 11, 2010.
- Alumni Reunion Conference, Information Security Group, Royal Holloway, University of London, 2008, accessed 2010-07-20.
- "Cryptography Legend Whit Diffie Joins the ICANN Team" (PDF). ICANN News Release. ICANN. May 14, 2010. Retrieved 2011-01-28. "Globally recognized as a leader in public-key cryptography, encryption and network security, Diffie has a long and distinguished career as a leading force for innovative thought. He brings extensive experience in the design, development and implementation of security methods for networks. ... Prior to coming to ICANN, Diffie served as Vice President, Fellow, and Chief Security Officer with Sun Microsystems, at which he had worked from 1991 to 2009. At Sun, Diffie focused on the most fundamental security problems facing modern communications and computing with emphasis on public policy as well as technology. Prior to joining Sun, Diffie was Manager of Secure Systems Research for Northern Telecom, where he played a key role in the design of Northern's first packet security product and in developing the group that was later to become Entrust."
- "Whitfield Diffie". Computer History Museum. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
-  MIT Press
- Steven Levy, Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government — Saving Privacy in the Digital Age, ISBN 0-14-024432-8, 2001.
- Oral history interview with Martin Hellman Oral history interview 2004, Palo Alto, California. Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Hellman describes his invention of public key cryptography with collaborators Whitfield Diffie and Ralph Merkle at Stanford University in the mid-1970s. He also relates his subsequent work in cryptography with Steve Pohlig (the Pohlig–Hellman algorithm) and others. Hellman addresses the National Security Agency's (NSA) early efforts to contain and discourage academic work in the field, the Department of Commerce's encryption export restrictions, and key escrow (the so-called Clipper chip). He also touches on the commercialization of cryptography with RSA Data Security and VeriSign.
- Cranky Geeks Episode 133
- Wired Magazine biography of Whitfield Diffie
- Interview with Whitfield Diffie on Chaosradio Express International
- Cranky Geeks Episode 71
- Risking Communications Security: Potential Hazards of the Protect America Act
- RSA Conference 2010 USA: The Cryptographers Panel 1/6, video with Diffie participating on the Cryptographer's Panel, April 21, 2009, Moscone Center, San Francisco